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Works on Paper Exhibition Caps Celebration of Hood's American Collections

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2007
Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art

Beginning September 22, the Hood will present more than fifty American drawings, watercolors, prints, and photographs from the collections in an exhibition entitled American Works on Paper to 1950: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art. This presentation complements the larger exhibition of American paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, that has been on view since June 9 in three galleries on the museum’s second level and in the Israel Sack Gallery on the museum’s entry level. Taken together, these exhibitions offer by far the largest survey of Dartmouth’s American holdings to date while considering how and why these objects found their way to Hanover and how the American collections have developed further since the opening of the Hood in 1985. Text panels interspersed throughout the exhibitions present distinctive characteristics of the collection, including some of its primary modes of acquisition and its particular connections to Dartmouth and the region.

Works on paper constitute a large proportion of the Hood’s American collections and are among the most frequently used works for teaching and exhibition. The College has actively collected prints, drawings, and watercolors since the early twentieth century. At that time a newly formed art department began to acquire, by gift and purchase, works that were deemed useful for didactic purposes and exhibition, particularly after the 1929 opening of the Carpenter Hall art galleries. Such evidence of Dartmouth’s deepening commitment to the visual arts encouraged further donations, including the extraordinary 1935 gift from Abby Aldrich (Mrs. John Jr.) Rockefeller that included more than seventy-five American watercolors and drawings. The Hood’s impressive holdings in these media, strengthened by recent acquisitions, provided the subject for the museum’s 2005 traveling exhibition and catalogue Marks of Distinction: Two Hundred Years of American Drawings and Watercolors from the Hood Museum of Art.

The American print collection also began to develop early in the twentieth century and expanded rapidly in the 1930s and 1940s, when the College purchased prints from such organizations as Associated American Artists, which sold high-quality original prints to a large public at low cost, thereby supporting artists while popularizing American art. Sizeable gifts, such as Mrs. Hersey Egginton’s 1954 donation of over seven hundred works, primarily American prints from the first half of the twentieth century, bolstered these holdings, which now number almost three thousand examples before 1950.

Although it wasn’t until the 1970s that Dartmouth began collecting photography in a deliberate and concerted manner, such photographs as a Southworth and Hawes daguerreotype of Daniel Webster found their way to Dartmouth as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Thanks to continuing gifts and the availability of acquisitions funds established since the Hood’s opening, the photography collections have grown rapidly in recent decades. The museum’s curators have particularly sought out photographs considered useful for teaching not only the practice and history of photography but also a number of academic disciplines, including American history. Recently acquired iconic documentary photographs by Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange, for instance, serve not only as cornerstone images in the history of American photography but also as key documents pertaining to child labor and the Great Depression, respectively.

As is the case with its companion exhibition of American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts, American Works of Art on Paper to 1950 can only hint at the quality, diversity, and breadth of the Hood collections. Owing to space limitations and the susceptibility of works on paper to damage from light exposure, only a fraction of these objects can be on public view at any given time. Both exhibitions continue through December 9. In conjunction with them, the museum has produced a 256-page book on the American collections—the first in a series of publications the Hood will issue over the next several years devoted to aspects of the museum’s greatest assets, its permanent collections. Copublished with the University Press of New England, this fully illustrated book features individual entries for more than two hundred works from the American collections dating from around 1705 to 1950, many of which have never before been published. An introductory essay surveys the formation of the collection and its changing focus and function over the course of Dartmouth’s long history.

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